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With regard to women in the 18th and 19th centuries in England, significant changes took place with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. At this time, people living in the country moved to the cities where work would be more readily available.
In terms of women, prior to the Industrial Revolution, all women were subservient to men.
In the middle classes, women were not educated outside of the home—along with reading and writing, they were expected to learn things such as managing a household, raising children, embroidery, music, art, and perhaps languages. Young men were educated in more "significant" areas such as history, literature, etc. A woman owned nothing: her possessions upon marriage became her husband's. Women really had no rights. They were seen as chattel—possessions.
For the working class woman, life was very hard until the day she died— working tirelessly at home and/or in factories.
There were a few exceptional women who transcended social restrictions: Mary Wollstonecraft (mother to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein) published a book in the 18th Century entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which created quite an uproar, and offered women a glimpse of what life would be like if they had rights.
Many years before, with the end of feudalism, the poor had begun carving out a better life—one significant way was in raising sheep (for example); wool from England was in much more demand (as it was cheaper) than imported wool. This saw the beginning of an emerging middle class. Though frowned upon by "blue bloods" (those of aristocratic blood), the emerging middle class changed the face of Britain forever—climbing the social ladder with substantial wealth that even some members of the aristocracy did not enjoy. With this economic change, women started to realize greater freedoms. Some women became novelists. Women of the lower classes (with this new emerging class) were able to find decent work as maids and governesses, serving the new middle class.
The status of women in the Victoria Era is often seen as an illustration of the striking discrepancy between the nation's power and richness and what many, then and now, consider its appalling social conditions.
Working class women and women of the upper classes were now being educated more widely.
In the early and mid 19th century the churches provided some schools. After 1870 the state provided them.
Then, women were allowed to attend universities (specifically Oxford) in the late 19th Century, but degrees were not granted until the early 1920s.
Elizabeth Fry was deeply involved in prison reform.
The invention of typewriters and phones in the 19th Century would provide more work for poor but educated women.
In 1882, women were finally able to possess their own wealth and property. Divorce was legalized in 1857, though it was rare. Women were allowed to leave the home to support charitable endeavors: something approved by society-at-large.
The late 19th saw the first female doctors (the first, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was also the first female mayor); Lillian Murray was the first dentist.
In 1869 John Stuart Mill published his book The Subjection of Women, which demanded equal rights for women.
The Feminist movement in Britain began in the 19th Century. It is still active there today.
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